Titanic (1997, Directed by James Cameron) English 7

Starring Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Billy Zane, Bill Paxton, Gloria Stuart, Frances Fisher, Kathy Bates, David Warner, Victor Garber

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(7-Very Good Film)

Corny. Stirring. Accomplished.

Rich girl, poor boy fall in love aboard the RMS Titanic in the days leading up to its legendary and tragic plunge. I think we’re all familiar with the story of Jack (DiCaprio) and Rose (Winslet) at this point. Titanic is great entertainment. It’s engrossing drama, sappy but compelling romance, and finally a stirring disaster epic. I was most interested in the latter element, or the second half of the film, in other words. Through it all, Cameron’s skill and technical ability are on display and the level of craftsmanship in this film is astounding. I did find myself, upon recent viewing, to be a little more cynical and bemused by the antics of the protagonists. Why throw a priceless necklace to the bottom of the ocean? That could feed thousands of people.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(381)

The Black Widow (1954, Directed by Nunnally Johnson) English 6

Starring Van Heflin, Gene Tierney, Ginger Rogers, Peggy Ann Garner, George Raft, Reginald Gardiner, Otto Kruger

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(6-Good Film)

Tense. Surprising. Well-executed.

Bigshot Broadway producer, Peter Denver (Heflin), gets mixed up with a seemingly sweet young woman and aspiring writer, Nancy Ordway (Ann Garner), but when he comes home one day to find her dead in his apartment, all the evidence points to him being the murderer. He has to race to find the killer before the cops settle on him, and then there’s his wife, Mrs. Denver (Tierney), who’s bound to get the wrong idea. This is a very satisfying murder mystery with a couple of twists and a handful of well-drawn characters. Ginger Rogers is a scene-stealer as the theater diva, Carlotta Marin, who loves gossip and hurls thinly veiled criticisms any chance she gets. The Black Widow is fairly by-the-numbers as far as whodunnits go, so if you’re weary of conventional mysteries, look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you’re like me, and never tire of a solid murder mystery, this is a solid picture.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(380)

The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945, Directed by Leo McCarey) English 7

Starring Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers, William Gargan, Joan Carroll, Ruth Donnelly

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(7-Very Good Film)

Sweet. Sentimental. Moving.

It’s difficult not to get romantic notions about Hollywood classics such as The Bells of St. Mary’s. I watch and think, “Oh, how wonderful times were. How much nicer.” I know better, of course, but for me, there is a type of magic about classic Hollywood cinema that I would describe as pure joy. Here, Bing Crosby returns to his role as Father O’Malley, this time taking over at an inner-city school for children, supported by a group of nuns. Though never hostile, Father O’Malley and the Sister Superior, Mary Benedict (Bergman), have different ideas for just about everything, but even through their gentle confrontations, they develop a respect for each other as the films goes on. The Bells of St. Mary’s is a wonderful Christmas film. The drama is light but moving, Bergman is luminous, and Bing Crosby is likely the coolest priest ever to grace the screen.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(377)

Mamma Mia (2008, Directed by Phyllida Lloyd) English 6

Starring Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Dominic Cooper, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski

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(6-Good Film)

Extravagant. Fun. Exuberant.

After finding her mother’s diary detailing the amorous adventures of her youth,  Sophie (Seyfried) reaches out and invites the three men who might possibly be her father- the man who got away, Sam (Brosnan), the once adventurous Harry (Firth), and the lone-wolf sailor, Bill (Skarsgard)-to her wedding. She figures that she’ll be able to tell, just by looking at them, who her real father is. Meanwhile, her mother, Donna (Streep), reunites with her fun-loving best friends. That is until confronted with the three great loves of her life who come crashing back into her life all at the same time. Mainly though, the plot serves to segue between the ABBA soundtrack. Nicknamed a jukebox musical, wherein the actors sing pop hits we’re all familiar with, I have to admit, I didn’t hate this movie. I’m surprised because I did hate Moulin Rouge, another example of the style, and that was significantly better received by critics. I’m not necessarily a fan of ABBA, but the songs are undeniably catchy, and I just found the whole spirit of the film infectious. Through all the flamboyance and the manufactured camaraderie, like a top-notch drag show, Mamma Mia is campy and fun.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(375)

South Pacific (1958, Directed by Joshua Logan) English 6

Starring Mitzi Gaynor, Rossano Brazzi, John Kerr, Ray Walston, Juanita Hall

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(6-Good Film)

Earnest. Epic. Melodramatic.

On an island in the South Pacific during World War II, a cast of characters that includes Nurse Forbush (Gaynor), Navy Lieutenant Cable (Kerr), and French plantation owner Emile de Becque find love, friendship, and combat set to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s memorable music. South Pacific has noble ideas-ideas about racism and prejudice-and goes about them earnestly. Naturally then, it’s quite corny and old-fashioned. It’s also not as involving a story as, say, The King and I or The Sound of Music, two of the musical team’s most popular works. In the end, however, it was just involving enough to get me from one catchy song to the next, and the picturesque setting makes South Pacific a beautiful Technicolor film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(373)

 

Belle de Jour (1967, Directed by Luis Bunuel) French 7

Starring Catherine Deneuve, Michel Piccoli, Jean Sorel, Genevieve Page, Pierre Clementi

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(7-Very Good Film)

Fascinating. Striking. Ponderous.

A satirical, almost whimsical tale about a bored young housewife, Severine (Deneuve), with seemingly everything, who becomes a high-end call-girl during the day time. Later, she meets and is oddly attracted to a local thug named Marcel (Clementi), whose obsession with her puts her duplicitous life in danger. A lurid, fascinating film by Luis Bunuel, considered one of world cinema’s old masters, Belle de Jour is one of the few he did that I’ve embraced. It’s regarded as a commentary on a woman’s fantasy life, but, as it’s written and directed by men, I think it has more to do with men’s fantasies about women. Deneuve’s Belle de Jour, as she is later called, is part classy, elegant lady, part prostitute. A feminine version of Venus in Furs’ Severin. In any case, the sordid story is handled with expert control and exuberant style.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(367)

Dead Poet’s Society (1989, Directed by Peter Weir) English 8

Starring Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Josh Charles, Gale Hansen, Norman Lloyd, Kurtwood Smith

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Memorable. Affecting. Strong.

A young, individualistic teacher, Mr. Keating (Williams), begins working at the prestigious Welton Academy, in Autumn 1959. He quickly excites and inspires his students, chiefly Todd (Hawke), Knox (Charles), Charlie (Hansen), and Neil (Sean Leonard), along with a few others, who make up the illicit club known as the Dead Poet’s Society, a group that meets in secret to share and recite poetry. Not generally the least bit moved by films that get deemed “prestigious” or “inspiring,” I’m surprised that Dead Poet’s Society makes such an impression, to this day. Roger Ebert’s disdainful review with lines like “a collection of pious platitudes” would seem fair except watching the film again, I think it misses the point. Dead Poet’s Society, heavy dramatics aside, is about being inspired or having someone that inspires you. As for the platitudes, since the main characters are all teenagers and only just figuring out who they are and how to express themselves, I think they can be forgiven for any number of platitudes. It’s an involving and rousing drama, with a memorable performance from Robin Williams.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(364)